The Journal of Public Transportation has a special issue out consisting of thinkpieces by a range of figures in the business. I’m honored to be there alongside industry leaders like Susan Shaheen of UC Berkeley, Graham Currie of Australia’s Monash University, Kari Watkins of Georgia Tech and Brian Taylor of UCLA, as well as our favorite operations and scheduling consultant, Dan Boyle.
My contribution is called “To Predict with Confidence, Plan for Freedom.” It basically outlines the argument of my next book, so this would be a great time to hear some critiques of it. Here’s the opening:
What will urban transportation be like in 10-20 years? How will automated vehicles interact with social and cultural trends to define the city of tomorrow? Will the vehicles of the future be owned or shared? How will pricing evolve to motivate behavior? What will happen to public mass transit? What other innovations can we expect that will transform the landscape? This paper, which is merely the outline of a larger argument, suggests three interconnected answers.
- We can’t possibly know. History has always been unpredictable, punctuated with shocks, but if the pace of change is accelerating, then unpredictability may be increasing too.
- We can reach many strong conclusions without knowing. A surprising number of facts about transportation, including some fairly counterintuitive insights that would be transformative if widely understood, can be described and justified solidly with little or no empirical ground, because they are matters of geometry and physics or of nearly axiomatic principles of biology.
- Prediction may not be what matters anyway. If we abandoned hope of predicting the future, we could still describe a compelling outcome of transportation investment, one that motivates many people who will never care about a ridership prediction or economic impact analysis. We could also predict it in the sense that we can predict the continued value of pi. That idea is freedom, as transportation expands or reduces it.
So if that catches your interest, read the whole thing, and share your comments below!